Eurasian lynx : Largest of the four spcies

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Eurasian Lynx of Scandinavian type

Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), which is also known by the names of northern lynx, European lynx, common lynx and Siberian or Russian lynx, is a medium-sized cat found in Siberian and European forests, Central and East Asia. While its conservation status has been classified as “Least Concern”, its populations have been reduced or extirpated from western Europe, where it is now being reintroduced.

The largest Lynx

They are quite secretive creatures. They are seldom heard or seen because the sounds produced by them are very quiet. This is the reason that their presence in an area often goes unnoticed for years. Tracks on snow or remnants of prey are the usual indicators of their presence in any area.

They are the largest of the species. It can measure 80 to 135 cm in length and can be 70 cm high at shoulders. Tail measures 11 to 25 cm in length. Usually males weigh 18-30 kg, while females weigh between the range of 8 to 21 kg. Males found in Siberia have the largest body size and can weigh up to 38 kg or reportedly even 45 kg. Its legs are powerful and relatively long, with large furred and webbed paws, which act like snowshoes and prevent the cat from sinking into the snow. Like the typical lynx characteristics, it also possesses a short “bobbed” tail, black tufts of hair on ears and a long grey-and-white ruff. Its tail has an all-black tip.

In summers these cats have reddish or brown coat with relatively shorter fur. The colour tends to be more bright in animals living at the southern end of their range. In colder months the fur becomes more thicker and turns silver-grey and can vary up to greyish-brown. The fur is almost always marked with black spots, although their pattern and numbers are highly variable. Eurasian lynx’s underparts, including the neck and chin, are white at all times of the year. Some of the animals have dark brown stripes on their forehead and back. Although spots are likely to be more numerous in individuals from southern populations, the animals with heavily spotted fur may exist close to others with plain fur.

This species is known to make various kinds of sounds, but they generally remain silent outside of the breeding season. Their mating calls are much louder, which include deep growls in males, and loud “meow”-like sounds in females. Besides this they have been observed making various other sounds which include mew, growl, hiss and purr. Like domestic cats, they will “chatter” at prey that is just out of reach.

Behaviour

These animals inhabit rugged forested country, which provides them plenty of hideouts and stalking opportunities. Depending on the locality, this may include boreal forest, forest-steppe and montane forest. Animals living in mountainous parts descend down to the lower altitudes in winter, following their prey, and avoiding the deepest snows.

Solitary by nature, Eurasian lynxes are mainly nocturnal or crepuscular. They usually spend their day by sleeping in dense thickets or other places of concealment, but they may also be found hunting during the day when food is scarce.  Its hunting area can extend from mere 20 sq km to huge 460 sq km, depending on the availability of food. Males are known to cover much larger distances in search of food than females, which tend to live in exclusive, rather than overlapping, hunting ranges. These cats can travel up to 20 km in a single night, although about half this distance is more typical. They patrol on regular basis throughout all parts of their hunting range, using scent marks to register their presence and sending warnings to other individuals. Scent marks may consist of scrape marks, feces and urine spray at prominent locations along the boundary of the territory.

Eurasian lynx’s hunting strategy usually includes stalking, sneaking and jumping on prey. When conditions are suitable they also resort to ambush. In winter, especially after the snowfall, visibility becomes more prominent and sneaking and stalking becomes difficult then the cat switches its focus to larger prey. It hunts using both vision and hearing, and often climbs onto high rocks or fallen trees to scan the surroundings. A very powerful predator, these lynx are capable of killing adult deer weighing up to 150 kg.

Eurasian lynx preys on small to fairly large mammals and birds. They are the only Lynx species that depend more on ungulates (hoofed animals) for food rather than the lagomorphs (hares, rabbits and pika) or rodents as the adults need 1 to 2.5 kg of meat daily. Among the recorded prey items for the species from smaller to larger are dormice, squirrels, marmots and other rodents, grouse, rabbits, hares, foxes, red foxes, wild boar, chamois, red deer, roe deer, reindeer, moose and even other ungulates. In winters these lynxes go for fairly large ungulates as the small prey is less abundant. In the case of larger prey they may take several days to fully consume it.

Wolves, which belong to the family Canidae, are enemies of lynxes, they have been reported to attack and even eat them. To avoid them, lynxes tend to be less common where they are abundant. In Russian forests, the most important predators of lynxes are the wolverines and the gray wolf. Wolverines are possibly the most determined of competitors for kills. They often steal kills made by lynxes. This is the reason that lynxes usually avoid encounters with wolverines, but if the kittens are involved then lynxes put up a very formidable and ferocious defense. Examination of Siberian tiger’s stomach contents have revealed that they too prey upon lynxes. In addition to predators described above lynxes also have to secure their food against scavengers like wild boar, red fox, golden eagles and eagle owls. In the southern part of their range they also have to compete with leopards and snow leopards.

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Sex Life

In Eurasian lynx mating season lasts from January to April, during which females come into oestrus only once. In normal circumstances this period lasts four to seven days, but if the first litter is lost, a second oestrus is common. Eurasian lynxes do not seem to be able to control their reproductive behaviour based on prey availability, as is evident in the closely related Canada lynx. This is perhaps due to the fact that Eurasian species feed on variety of animals from small to large and usually do not face food scarcity.

After the female conceives she prepares a den at a secluded place, often protected by overhanging branches or tree roots. To make the home warm and comfortable she lines up the den with dry grass, feathers, deer hairs and all such material. Gestation period in the species lasts from 67 to 74 days, after which one to four blind kittens are born, each weighing 240 to 430 grams. Initially the kittens have plain, greyish-brown fur, they  attain full adult colouration when they are around eleven weeks old. Their eyes open after ten to twelve days. They start taking solid food at six to seven weeks, when they begin to leave the den. They are not fully weaned for five or six months.

Eurasian Lynx range map (Attribution - Chermundy and IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Two to three months after the kittens are born the den is abandoned, but the young remain with their mother until they are about ten months of age, which is also the start of the next breeding season. These lynxes attain sexual maturity when they are two to three years old and have lived for twenty one years in captivity.

Range and status

Asia
  • Central Asia:- Eurasian lynx is found in the Chinese provinces of Shaanxi, Sichuan, Sinkiang, Qinghai and Gansu as well as to northern slopes of Iran’s Alborz Mountains, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.
  • India:- Ladakh area of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and most other Himalayan states.
  • Pakistan:- Adjoining areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Northern Areas (Gilgit Baltistan) and FATA
  • Nepal:- Most of northern areas of country.
  • Russia: Forests in Siberia have more than 90 per cent of all Eurasian Lynxes. Their distribution is from the western borders of Russia to the Pacific island of Sakhalin.
  • Turkey:- As “the fate of Turkey’s wildlife lies with various governmental bodies holding often conflicting agendas and handicapped by a lack of skilled personnel and funding” unfortunately ” there are no estimates of the number” of Eurasian lynx living in Turkey and possibly their number is declining due to legal hunting of the animal from August to the end of March every year. (The Status of Mammalian Carnivores in Turkey—Kirk  Johnson)
Europe

This cat was once quite common in the whole of Europe. Due to large scale killing its population started declining and by the middle of the 19th century, it became extinct in most countries of Western and Central Europe. There have been successful attempts recently to reintroduce the animal into its former range.

Eurasian lynx extirpated in Croatia and Slovenia in the beginning of the 20th century. A project for its resettlement was started in 1973 under which it was successfully reintroduced to the Slovenian Alps and the Croatian regions of Gorski Kotar and Velebit, including Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park and Risnjak National Park. To protect the species both countries have listed it as endangered and have enacted laws to protect it.

In 1970s several resettlement projects were successfully initiated in the various regions of Switzerland; since 1990s Germany too started numerous efforts to resettle the lynx. It was due to these efforts small populations have now become visible especially after the year 2000 in the Harz mountains near Bad Lauterberg.

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Status of the Eurasian lynx in various European countries and regions:

Britain:- It was believed that the animal had vanished from Britain, much before the nation came into existence. Experts are of the opinion that this happened either about 10,000 years ago, after the last glacial period, popularly known as the Ice Age, had retreated or about 4,000 years ago, when cooler and wetter climate change was taking place. However, carbon dating of skulls found in the Craven caves in North Yorkshire and those that are with the National Museums of Scotland show they lived in Britain between 80 and 425 AD. An indigenous name for the animal, lox, existed in Old English.

Julian and Dinaric Alps :- The species had been considered extinct in Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina since the beginning of the 20th century. In 1973 a successful reintroduction project was carried out in Slovenia under which three males and the same number of females brought from Slovakia were released in the Ko?evski forest. Result is that now the animal can be seen in the Slovenian Alps and in the Croatian region spanning the Dinaric Alps and over the Dinara Mountain into western Bosnia and Herzegovina. All the three countries have listed the animal as endangered and have enacted law to protect it. Present population estimation is that Slovenia has about 40 animals, Croatia 40-60 and 50-60 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Eurasian Lynx in the USSR stamp

Carpathian Mountains:- About 3,000 Eurasian lynxes are believed to be living in this 1,500km long mountain range, spread over Serbia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is the largest contiguous population west of the Russia.

Balkan peninsula:- About a hundred Balkan lynx, subspecies of Eurasian lynx, are living in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania and possibly Greece. Occurring in the remote mountainous regions, their largest numbers are in remote hills of western Macedonia. It has been on the brink of extinction for nearly a century due to large scale poaching. It was declared extinct in Bulgaria in 1985, but sightings continued well into the 1990s.

Romania:- It is claimed that outside Russia, the largest population in Europe is in Romania, exceeding 2,000 animals, which includes most of the Carpathian population. However, Most authorities feel the figures are overestimated. Limited hunting is permitted but the population is stable.

Estonia:- The country has the highest density of Eurasian lynxes in Europe, notwithstanding the fact that 180 animals were legally hunted in 2010. According to a 2001 estimate there were 900 individuals in the country.

Czech Republic:- The lynxes were exterminated in Bohemia in 19th century (1830–1890) and in Moravia probably at the turn of the 20th century. In 1980s, about 20 specimens were imported from Slovakia and reintroduced in the Šumava. In the beginning of 2006 the population in the Czech Republic was estimated at 65–105. Hunting of lynx is prohibited, but it is often threatened by poachers.

Fennoscandia:- The only non-domestic feline in Scandinavia, lynx found in the region were close to extinction in the 1930s–1950s but after the rigorous conservation efforts were undertaken their number increased again. In the meantime protective hunting for lynx has been legalized again. The numbers are still on a slow increase.

  • Finland:- According to a 2009 estimate there were about 2200-2300 animals in the country. Though the limited hunting is permitted, the population is still increasing every year since 1991. In 2009 hunting permits were issued for 340 lynxes.
  • Norway:- Lynx population is quite stable in the country except for the southwestern counties, where they are only found intermittently. Country had achieved the national goal of 65 births in 2007 itself, with 69 to 74 registered births. The population was estimated at 409–439 specimens.
  • Sweden:- The country had about 1400 lynx in 2006 and 1250 in 2011. Here hunting is allowed, but it is controlled by government agencies. This has resulted in steady decline in the population. In 2006 there was killing of 41 lynxes outside of hunting of which 31 were killed in traffic accidents.

Germany:- The animal was wiped out in the country in 1850, but was reintroduced in 1990s to the Bavarian Forest and the Harz. Soon the other areas were populated by individuals immigrating from the nearby France and the Czech Republic. The first birth of wild lynx in Germany was made public in 2002, following a litter from a pair in the Harz National Park.

France:– The animal was wipe outed by about the year 1900, but was reintroduced later to the Vosges and Pyrenees and has moved to the French Alps from Switzerland.

Latvia:- There were about 700 lynx in the country in 2005 estimate. In Lithuania the estimated population was about 80–100 individuals.

Belgium:- The animal was extinct for about 300 years, but in the first decade of the 21st century it was noticed that it has started recolonizing the eastern part of the country. It is believed that these animals are probably from the populations in the Vosges region of France or the Eifel region of Germany or possibly illegal introductions by hunters.

Netherlands:- Some sightings have been reported despite the fact that the animal has been extinct in the country since the Middle Ages. It is believed the animals sighted were probably captive-bred that have escaped or were released into the wild. There is also a possibility of animals moving in from Germany, since several of the sightings reported during the 1980s and 1990s were around the Reichswald area.

In Other Countries:- Lynx is considered extinct in Italy since early 20th century but over the past 30 years a limited recolonization of the Alpine habitat is being done by the populations living in Switzerland and Slovenia. The animal became extinct in Switzerland in 1915, but was reintroduced in the year 1971. Lynxes are native to forested areas in Central and East Slovakia also where they are found mainly in mixed forests at altitudes of 800 to 1000 m. About hundred or so individuals are also residing in Poland.

Subspecies

Accurate classification of the subspecies of the the animal is still being debated, but based on recent interpretation, the list includes:

  • Boreal Lynx (Lynx lynx lynx) — found in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Western Siberia.
  • Carpathian Lynx (Lynx lynx carpathicus) — found in Carpathian Mountains and Central Europe.
  • Balkan lynx (Lynx lynx martinoi) — found in Balkans.
  • Caucasian lynx (Lynx lynx dinniki) — found in Caucasus.
  • Altai Mountain lynx (Lynx lynx wardi) — found in Altai Mountains.
  • Siberian lynx (Lynx lynx wrangeli) — found in Eastern Siberia.
  • Lynx lynx isabellinus — found in Central Asia.
  • Lynx lynx kozlovi — Central Siberia.
  • Lynx lynx stroganovi — Amur region.
  • Sardinian Lynx (Lynx lynx sardiniae) — found on the found on the Italian island of Sardinia (now extinct)

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